The True Definition of Resilience

Photo by Ben Collins on Unsplash

In recent months, everyone has faced challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No one has been spared.

Healthcare workers have shouldered more responsibilities than most “regular joes” face in a lifetime. For many of us, our professional careers have leached over into our personal lives. As a result, we are dealing with pandemic-related issues stacked onto the normal stressors of our day-to-day lives.

I have suffered from anxiety for nearly 20 years. The attacks on 9/11 triggered the first panic attack I can remember, and I began a low dose anxiety prescription soon afterward.

In my 20s, a leadership coach sent me an article about resilience, and I was inspired. I will use resilience to overcome my anxiety, I thought.

In the ensuing years, I pursued higher education, learned coping skills, and built my own self-esteem through reading, writing, art, and professional development.

I thought I was all set.

Webster defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” The American Psychological Association broadens that definition to include “adaptation in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”

Who knew that for me, 2020 would present all of these stressors at once?

In my professional career, I work as a nonclinical member of a business development team. In non-COVID-19 times, I am typically on the road five days a week, building relationships and helping people find the resources they need in their communities. I love my job because it allows me to help people. Our professionals save lives every day.

When the pandemic hit, our team of road warriors were brought in to support the departments dealing with infection prevention. I am a quick learner and a flexible person, but my personal issues coupled with my uncertainty about the pandemic began to take a toll on me.

The work I had done to build my own resilience was not going to cut it. I had been training for the minor leagues… this was a major league problem.

When people say depression and anxiety are tied to each other, believe them. My anxiety mounted and I began to suffer depressive episodes. I was feeling a recurring sense of hopelessness. It was really, truly scary.

I did the only thing I knew to do: I called my primary care doctor. He recommended cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I spoke with my HR director, who told me our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) would provide several CBT sessions over the phone.

Afterward, I shifted to a local therapist, who I now see on a regular basis. A psychiatric nurse practitioner monitors and adjusts my medications. The podcast Fake Doctors, Real Friends boosts my mood when I was feeling down.

In truth, I did not fail to build resilience. I had simply (and incorrectly) equated the concept of resilience with invulnerability.

I needed to learn that I am a human being, vulnerable to harm, and that there are limitations to the amount of stress I can endure. My mother always told me — usually in the waiting room of our local ER — that I was not born invincible. She could not have guessed I would finally learn that lesson from a global pandemic decades later.

Resilience means choosing to bounce back, no matter what.

Resilience means using whatever tools you have at your disposal, not just those you have within yourself, to survive.

Resilience means reaching out for help — professional or otherwise — when you reach your limit.

Resilience is not a skill to be learned — it is a mindset to be adopted.

Esther Hofknecht Curtis, MSM-HCA is a community liaison for a mental health and substance use program in Delaware. She is an advocate for patients with mental health and substance use disorders and has worked in the field of healthcare since 2008. Email her at or follow her on Facebook at

Book nerd and freelance writer finding gold in ordinary places. Email me at Visit

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